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The Church in Laodicea

The church in Laodicea is the seventh and last of the churches described in Revelation chapters 2 and 3.


The ancient city of Laodicea was located near the present city of Eski-hisar, 45 miles SE of Phildelphia and 40 miles east of Ephesus. It was near the temple of Men Karou where there was a well-known school of medicine and it exported a famous eye powder. It was also a strong financial center and was known in Roman times as one of the richest cities of the east. In 60 AD (or 61 or 66 AD, depending who you read), it was largely destroyed by an earthquake but refused outside help, basically saying "I can do it (the repairs) by myself." It was also in an area that raised lots of black sheep and produced black wool and black garments. It could be thought of as "the black sheep" of the family of seven churches.

The Last Church?

The church of Laodicea was the last of the seven churches. Laodicea means "a people judged" which helps promote the idea that it represents the church at the end, during a time of judgment. It also has a reputation of being the worst of the churches especially because of the expression " I will spue thee out of my mouth" (verse 16). It is commonly thought of representing the church in the last days which would then include Christians reading this. Is that bad - to be part of the church of Laodicea or does it necessarily mean that?

The previous church in the messages to the seven churches of Revelation, that of Philadelphia, received no rebuke but that does not mean everyone covered by that church will be saved. In contrast, the church of Laodicea had plenty of rebuke and no commendation but does that mean they all will be lost? Not necessarily; we, as individuals, determine our destiny by our choices. But the message to the church of Laodicea does include important information for Christians living near the end of time.

"And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;" (Rev 3:14)

"Amen" is often translated as "verily," from Hebrew meaning "in truth." The "faithful witness" refers back to the description of Christ in chapter 1, verse 5.

The word "beginning" is from the Greek word "arche" which refers to Christ as the One who began creation not that He was the first being created. It could have been translated as "the One who began" or "the beginner of."

"I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth." (Rev 3:15-16)

We have here three descriptors of spiritual condition: hot, cold and lukewarm. We could ask what is God's preference as far as our spiritual temperature?

  1. Hot - this would be His first choice for us; that is what He wants for all of us
  2. Cold - the cold person at least recognizes his need and God has the possibility to work with them
  3. Lukewarm - this is the worst condition as the person does not see or feel any need

The lukewarm condition was a reference to a state of compromise, a lack of zeal. This compromise can be seen as an attempt to serve two masters as described by Matthew:

"No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." (Matt 6:24)

We need to recognize that we cannot serve two masters and must make a definite choice as to which side we are on.

"I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (Luke 5:32)

Of course, God wants all to come to repentance but it is very difficult to get the self-sufficient who think they are righteous to realize their need. That realization is what needs to come first.

"And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner." (Luke 18:9-13)

The people Jesus was speaking to (verse 9) were not righteous they just thought they were.

This can all be related to the lukewarm water that was piped to Laodicea. It started off hot from a hot spring at the city of Hierapolis 6 miles away but cooled off on the way.

Thankfully, a more accurate translation of "I will spue thee out" is "I am about to spue you out." There was still opportunity to repent. Various translations render it that way:

"So -- because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to vomit thee out of my mouth;" (Rev 3:16, Young's Literal Translation)
"Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:" (Rev 3:17)

The condition of the church of Laodicea was the opposite of that of the members in Smyrna:

"I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan." (Rev 2:9)

Why did the church of Laodicea receive such a severe rebuke? Not because they were so bad but because of their great danger. It is very dangerous to think there is nothing wrong when there is so much wrong. That is what the sin of pride can do. That is what a loving God is trying to protect His people from.

Because of their condition, the following counsel was given to the church of Laodicea:

"I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see." (Rev 3:18)

The counsel was to "buy of me" to obtain exactly what they needed and to get it for free. This same invitation was given in Isaiah:

"Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David." (Isa 55:1-3)

The "gold tried in the fire" refers to a character that God wants for us. It is referred to as being refined by trials:

"And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness." (Mal 3:3)
"That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:" (1 Pet 1:7)

The "white raiment" of course refers again to purity which is used often in scripture.

"And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." (Rev 7:13-14)
"Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints." (Rev 19:7-8)

In the case of the church of Laodicea, it is interesting that one of the major products in that area was black clothing made from the abundant black wool from sheep raised in the area.

They were told to "anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see" and that is also interesting because the area was known for producing Phrygian eye powder which helped the eyes physically but didn't do anything for their spiritual sight which is needed to comprehend spiritual things.

"Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law." (Psa 119:18)
"The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints," (Eph 1:18)
"As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent." (Rev 3:19)

The call here is to be "zealous" or spiritually "hot." God will even rebuke and chasten in an effort to correct a person.

"Thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the LORD thy God chasteneth thee." (Deut 8:5)
"Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty:" (Job 5:17)
"If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?" (Heb 12:7)

A person should be happy at receiving correction if they recognize that it is to steer them in a better direction or that it is helping them overcome a serious problem.

"Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." (Rev 3:20)

Jesus at the door

In the message to the church in Philadelphia we noted Jesus' authority to open doors. There is one door He will not open. Many pictures have been made of Jesus knocking at a door with no doorknob on the outside. The message is that we have to open up to let Him in - He does not intrude His presence where it is not desired. And He is always knocking even on the heart's door of stubborn, self-sufficient members of the church of Laodicea. The question is: "are we hearing and responding to His voice?"

"To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne." (Rev 3:21)

Even in the message to the church of Laodicea there is a promise to those who overcome indicating that possibility even for them. Here is a summary of what is promised to the overcomers:

  1. get to eat of the tree of life (Ephesus; Rev 2:7)
  2. not hurt of the second death (Smyrna; Rev 2:11)
  3. get to eat of the manna; receive a new name (Pergamos; Rev 2:17)
  4. power over the nations (Thyatira; Rev 2:26)
  5. white raiment; name stays in the book of life; name confessed before the Father and angels (Sardis; Rev 3:5)
  6. made a pillar (permanent residence) in the temple of God; receive the names of God, the city of God, and Christ's new name. (Philadelphia, Rev 3:12)
  7. grant to sit with Christ in His throne (Laodicea; Rev 3:21)

The common theme in all of these is overcoming and the key to that is given:

"Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1 John 5:5)

There is an interesting connection here with a correct understanding of the relationship between the Father and the Son.

"Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him [the Father] that begat loveth him also that is begotten [Jesus] of him [the Father]." (1 John 5:1)

Do you think this is referring to what many people would call the Christmas story? No, the words "born," "begat" and "begotten in that verse are all from the Greek word "gennao" (think genetics) and refer to Jesus pre-incarnate state. Remember:

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)

If He gave His Son, He had to have a Son to give. Who is it that "is born of God" in that verse? It is not talking of Jesus being born of God but of the one who is believing.

"Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God [begotten of God], God dwelleth in him, and he in God." (1 John 4:15)

Lastly, one might ask "how big is that throne anyway?" To sit on a throne with Him really is speaking of shared authority not merely a place to sit. Consider the following (and many similar verses):

"If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us:" (2 Tim 2:12)
"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches." (Rev 3:22)

The Spirit had things to say to each church. The advice given is to anyone that has an ear to listen to what is said to the churches. We should all listen to each message because they just might apply to us too. Be especially careful that the message to the church of Laodicea does not find you lukewarm.

Download a PDF chart of the messages to the seven churches of Revelation.  

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The Greek has multiple words for forgiveness? God forgives (charizomai) whether we ask or not. Receiving forgiveness (apheimi) is by our choice.
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